Zelophehad’s Daughters

Why Discourage Women from Serving Missions?

Posted by Ziff

About a month ago, my beloved sister (and occasional ZD contributor) Melyngoch entered the MTC on her way to the Sweden Stockholm mission. I expect that she will be a very good missionary. She seems to have a great sense of purpose: she knows who she is and what she is doing and why.

I suspect that there are probably many twenty-something women in the Church who would similarly make very good missionaries. So I wonder why the Church discourages women from serving.

“But the Church doesn’t discourage women from serving!” I hear you saying. Oh, but I think it does. The best evidence I can come up with is President Hinckley’s 1997 General Conference talk where he discussed the issue of women serving missions:

There seems to be growing in the Church an idea that all young women as well as all young men should go on missions. We need some young women. They perform a remarkable work. They can get in homes where the elders cannot.

. . . I wish to say that the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve are united in saying to our young sisters that they are not under obligation to go on missions. I hope I can say what I have to say in a way that will not be offensive to anyone. Young women should not feel that they have a duty comparable to that of young men. Some of them will very much wish to go. If so, they should counsel with their bishop as well as their parents. If the idea persists, the bishop will know what to do.

I say what has been said before, that missionary work is essentially a priesthood responsibility. As such, our young men must carry the major burden. This is their responsibility and their obligation.

We do not ask the young women to consider a mission as an essential part of their life’s program. Over a period of many years, we have held the age level higher for them in an effort to keep the number going relatively small. Again to the sisters I say that you will be as highly respected, you will be considered as being as much in the line of duty, your efforts will be as acceptable to the Lord and to the Church whether you go on a mission or do not go on a mission.

We constantly receive letters from young women asking why the age for sister missionaries is not the same as it is for elders. We simply give them the reasons. We know that they are disappointed. We know that many have set their hearts on missions.

President Hinckley appears to have two major points here. First, men are obligated to serve and women are not. Second, getting to serve a mission must therefore be made more difficult for women. He sounds like he’s saying that the second point follows from the first, that because men have an obligation and women do not, women must be discouraged from going.

This doesn’t make sense to me. Wouldn’t it be possible for men to have an obligation to serve and for women to simply be allowed to serve if they want to, rather than artificially making it more difficult for women to serve? Is President Hinckley suggesting that it somehow reduce men’s sense of obligation to serve if too many women serve? Or is he saying that there are a limited number of missionary slots available and that if too many women serve, there won’t be enough slots for all the worthy men who are obligated to serve?

I’m also curious about President Hinckley’s suggestion that women want to serve missions because they feel that they won’t be as highly respected in the Church if they don’t. Doesn’t it seem equally likely that women in the Church want to serve simply because learning the gospel has incited a missionary zeal in them? As Elder Ballard described in a 2005 General Conference talk:

When our youth understand the significance of the Restoration of the gospel and know for themselves that God is our Heavenly Father and He loves all of His children, that Jesus is the Christ, and that together They personally visited Joseph Smith to open this, the final dispensation of time, they will want to help carry this message to the world.

Okay, let me be a little more systematic about this. I’ll list some possible reasons why the Church might want to discourage women from serving missions and comment briefly on each one.

1. If too many women serve, it will reduce men’s sense of obligation to serve. This argument parallels a common argument made against ordaining women: if women are ordained, men will slack and do nothing, expecting women to do everything. I don’t buy it. First, it seems like it would be straightforward to continue to convey the message “men are obligated and women are not” while at the same time simply letting women who want to serve, serve, rather than discouraging them. I can’t see that making it easier for women to serve will convey the message to men “you don’t really have to go now.” Also, as with the argument against ordaining women, how pathetic are men if we can only fulfill our obligations if women are kept from doing them? If we’re that bad, are we really worth saving? Why accommodate our weakness? Let’s have a bunch of talks about how the natural man who does nothing because he expects women to do it all is an enemy to God.

2. There are a limited number of missionary slots available and that if too many women serve, there won’t be enough slots for all the worthy men who are obligated to serve. This seems unlikely. More likely, the Church would be more than happy to expand the missionary program to accommodate any number of potential worthy missionaries. After all, Elder Ballard, in the same talk I quoted above, was asking for each ward or branch to send one more missionary than they had been planning–a plan which would increase the missionary force by 26,000, he said.

3. Women only want to serve missions because they feel that they won’t be as highly respected in the Church if they don’t. As I said above, I think it’s just as likely that women’s desire to serve is, like men’s, simply a reflection of their internalizing the gospel including the charge to share it. I think President Hinckley’s description of disappointed women who have “set their heart on missions” supports this.

4. The purpose of missions is to prepare future Church leaders as much as it is to convert people. As men fill the vast majority of leadership positions in the Church, men should be the ones serving. (This is based on a comment made by “me” [not me, Ziff, but a commenter going by the name of "me"] in a discussion at FMH back in June.) I don’t disagree that serving a mission might prepare a person for a leadership position in the Church. But it seems misguided to me to put the focus of the missionary effort on anything other than proclaiming the gospel. I think this argument also boils down to #2; it only matters that women are serving when men need leadership training if there are a limited number of missionary slots.

5. Sisters are (on average) more effective missionaries than elders. If there are more sisters, their success will discourage the elders. This is a variation on #1. If elders are only willing to serve on the condition that there aren’t sisters around to show them up, they shouldn’t be serving in the first place. That sisters are more effective actually seems like an argument in favor of allowing more women to serve.

6. Sisters’ greater effectiveness is the result of a selection bias: when most women don’t serve, desire to serve is likely correlated with expected effectiveness. If more sisters served, their average effectiveness would decline. This argument could be applied to elders as well. They would be far more effective on average if only a few, who were likely to be the most motivated, were allowed to serve.

7. As missionary work is “essentially a priesthood responsibility,” men will be failing in their priesthood obligation if the percentage of missionaries who are women reaches some level (25? 50?). If there is some magic level beyond which the percentage of sister missionaries must not increase, isn’t it a pretty sad comment on men that the only way it can be maintained is by actively discouraging women from serving? In fact, I would say that if this is the case, it means that men are already collectively failing in their obligation, and there’s really nothing to be gained by actively discouraging women in order to artificially keep their percentage below a certain level. It’s not as though God will be fooled by this ploy into thinking that men really are doing better than they are.

8. Serving a mission is a kind of male rite of passage in the Church. If too many women serve, it dilutes the value of that rite of passage. This must be part of the unwritten order of things. If it’s that important, why are women allowed to serve at all?

9. Male RMs rely on the manipulation commitment pattern to find a wife. If their potential dates know the commitment pattern too, the men are sunk. Don’t laugh! I recall several elders from my mission saying that they didn’t want to marry or date RMs because of precisely this reason. I wouldn’t worry too much about male RMs’ marriage prospects, as the numbers weigh in their favor with more active single women than men in the Church.

10. Sisters will convert more women than elders will. There are already more active women than men in the Church, and that’s with a heavily male missionary force. More women converts will just push the sex ratio farther out of balance. I suspect that it is true that more sister missionaries would mean more women converts, and therefore a higher ratio of women to men in the Church. But it seems unfair to refuse to preach to women just because we can’t guarantee them a husband in the Church.

11. Women who serve missions are giving up a couple of prime childbearing years, when they could be married and starting a family. The simple solution to this issue would be to allow women to serve at 19.

12. Lots of elders and sisters serving together in the same mission will lead to lots of law of chastity violations. Elders and sisters seem to generally do okay now, even though they serve together in the same mission. But if it really became a problem, why couldn’t missions be segregated? Missions in areas where the Church is well established, with plenty of members to do the necessary baptizing, etc. could be sisters-only, for example.

13. We don’t want to send women into dangerous places. The more sisters who serve, the more likely this will happen. As with #12, if this is really a concern, there are workarounds. Perhaps sisters, if serving outside their own countries, could be sent only to the most stable countries in the developed world.

So what are the Church’s reasons for discouraging sisters from serving? I would guess #1, #3, #4, and #7 are the most likely. Like I said, though, I don’t find any of these arguments compelling.

Now I’d like to turn the question around: Why do we have any women serving missions? It’s not very hard to imagine a different universe in which President Hinckley, instead of saying that missionary work is “essentially a priesthood responsibility,” said that missionary work is “wholly a priesthood responsibility.” Rather than telling of women who were discouraged because they weren’t allowed to serve at 19, he would tell of women who were discouraged because they weren’t allowed to serve at all. This universe would be only slightly different from our own. I’m sure there is plenty of justification in the scriptures and words of the latter-day prophets for denying women the chance to serve as missionaries. For example, when Jesus sent the eleven apostles to teach all nations, the apostles were all men.

In fact, all of the above arguments (with the possible exception of #5 and #6) could be made in support of a policy that didn’t allow any women to serve as missionaries. As I noted with #1, some of them (such as #11 and #12) are used to varying degrees in support of our male-only priesthood. To me, the fact that the Church allows even some women to serve missions indicates that the Church leaders may not wholly agree with any of these arguments against women serving missions. Therefore, I wonder if perhaps the current policy of allowing sisters to serve but discouraging them from doing so might not be eventually replaced by a policy that allows sisters to serve just as elders do (at age 19, for two years, without requiring that they “persist” in asking) even while it will almost certainly maintain the distinction that men are obligated to serve while women are not.

So what do you think? Are women discouraged from serving missions? If so, why? Will the policy change?

95 Responses to “Why Discourage Women from Serving Missions?”

  1. 1.

    Yes, women are discouraged from serving missions.

    I believe that your no. 11 strikes the closest. It is not just a matter of child-bearing years, but rather the simple fact that if all of those young sisters are out on missions, they are not available to marry all of those RMs looking for wives. The idea is that the primary role of women should be as wives and mothers, not out doing missionary work.

    Of course no one wants to come out and actually say that.

    I agree with you that such a policy is unnecessary, and I think that active discouragement at least should cease and the age should be lowered.

    Will this happen? Beats me.

  2. 2.

    My wife is an RM. I have a 10-year-old daughter who talks openly about being an RM. To date, no one has tried to discourage her from doing this (then again, she’s not in the YW program yet). But I don’t see the encouragement.

    I think the lack of encouragement/discouragement is different at multiple levels.

    At the Hinckley level — I have no doubt that the Church supports the idea of sister missionaries. I have yet to hear a case of the Missionary Department declining to extend a call to a worthy young woman who had applied to go. If she applies, they’ll send her. (Maybe I’m wrong — does anyone have cases where a girl was DENIED a mission by SLC after going through all of the local interviews?) So given this, I don’t think SLC is opposed to sisters.

    I think that local leaders, though, have taken the “it’s a priesthood responsibility” statement and turned that into “don’t serve”. That, to me, is such idiocy. Of *course* it’s a priesthood responsibility. But that doesn’t mean sisters can’t serve as well!

    I actually don’t have much quibble with the age-21 requirement. Doesn’t bother me or my wife. DW thinks that given the “you can if you want to” message to the girls, making them wait an extra 2 years helps produce “better” sister missionaries — at the risk that the talent pool is reduced (which is why they’ll never raise it for young men).

    I’m not particularly troubled by the message to the young women that they should focus on families — that’s been said for decades. The message hasn’t changed.

    What troubles me is how we’ve dropped the one single instruction we used to give to the sisters, the one along the lines of “if marriage and family isn’t imminent at 21, consider a mission”. That was a simple enough instruction when my wife and I were in the youth program. If a girl isn’t about to get engaged when she turns 21, then go on a mission. My wife loves to say that if a boy can survive a mission, so can a girl.

    I have observed that fewer and fewer LDS girls — even those at BYU — today are getting married at 21. They are graduating at 22 and going off to graduate school, and working in fabulous jobs, etc., etc., etc. The point is, they are not even getting married at 21. So why then not consider a mission at 21? Even if (especially if) you get called to a stateside rural mission, it’s a tremendous spiritual growth experience.

    I don’t see that SLC has changed its stance in any way. It’s just that they no longer present openly the “if you’re not about to get married, then consider a mission” line. And then our local leaders have turned it into a negative.

    You have girls turning down missionary opportunities at 21 just because they have a boyfriend. Or then you have girls at 21 not even considering a mission because it would interfere with grad school. I really both of these approaches are wrong. Unless the ring is imminent, consider the mission. And consider it in terms of “why shouldn’t I serve?” as opposed to “why should I go?”

    Anyway – I’m on the offensive about girls and missions (it helps that my 10-year-old still wants to go — as recently as a couple of days ago, she was wondering out loud about where she might be called). I make comments to the Primary Presidency about how they need to talk about sisters serving. When she’s a YW, the YW presidency will hear from me about how they need to discuss missionary work. My bishop and I have had this conversation multiple times.

  3. 3.

    One item to add to your list: there’s only so many years in one’s 20s, and each year on a mission is one less year in school (something Pres. Hinckley HAS emphasized for women at length–to the point where the CES manual entry on him lists it as one of the major themes of his administration). Of course, education can bleed into one’s 30s, but then this discussion does get tied up in childbearing years.

    Another item: at a certain point (although I don’t know what % the tipping point would be), LDS men will think that being an RM is a requirement for a marriage partner and then serving a mission will become a de facto requirement for LDS women because they don’t want to be disadvantaged in the marriage market.

  4. 4.

    For me, marrying an RM was a de facto requirement when I came home. My second Sunday in my first BYU ward post-mission, I was asked to speak on mission preparation by the bishopric (our ward was about 67% freshman guys and 33% RMs, and 85% freshman girls). I made a pointed comment that girls should serve, because (in my opinion) they were better prepared for marriage, and I, in fact, planned to marry an RM.

    (My roommates said that a lot of girls looked crestfallen.)

  5. 5.

    Not that I don’t think women who serve aren’t good marriage material. Not saying that at all. Just saying that many of the skills learned by a guy on his mission that benefit him AFTER his mission, equally apply to women as well. I am definitely a better husband and father because I served. My wife considers herself to be a better wife and mother *because* she served.

    Can’t we throw missionary service into the educational process that GBH has been stressing?

  6. 6.

    I think that Pres. Hinckley was trying to deal with the negative pressure that is put on sisters and not the positive encouragement. During my BYU days many women who I knew had thought and prayed about missionary service, but didn’t feel like it was the right thing for their lives. However, because they were 21 they got the constant question from others, “are you going to serve a mission?” I think that there is a level of judgment that we make about a person’s personal worthiness/spirituality based on whether or not they served a mission and this is true for both men and women. Ultimately I believe that serving a mission should be a personal decision for both men and women and not something that they do because they feel pressured or guilted into doing it. We need to view people as they are when we meet them, not based on whether or not they served a mission.

  7. 7.

    Second, getting to serve a mission must therefore be made more difficult for women. He sounds like he’s saying that the second point follows from the first, that because men have an obligation and women do not, women must be discouraged from going.

    Can you elaborate on how exactly you see Hinckley saying this? Are you reading this out of the age difference?

  8. 8.

    Also, as with the argument against ordaining women, how pathetic are men if we can only fulfill our obligations if women are kept from doing them? If we’re that bad, are we really worth saving? Why accommodate our weakness?

    THANK YOU!!!!! I am always surprised that more people aren’t offended by the male bashing we hear at church. If women were spoken about in the same manner there would be outrage.

    I wonder if female missions are going to go like women administering did. Initially, it was allowed, encouraged and socially acceptable. Then it was allowed but brethren with the priesthood were encouraged to do it. Women were then discouraged from doing it. Finally it was pretty much forbidden and socially unacceptable (I say pretty much forbidden because I am not sure if it is outright forbidden). Will women going on missions be forbidden at some point, and will women wanting to serve be thought of the same way as women who want to administer?

  9. 9.

    I’ve known at least one person who explicitly fit #3.

    I actually think #12 might something to it.

    Without the semi-antagonism (as I experienced it) between Elders and Sisters caused by the age difference, I think there would be many more serious and distracting crushes among missionaries. I doubt it would seriously raise the level of, uh, unchastity, but one doesn’t need to have sex with one’s crush to be seriously distracted from one’s responsibilities.

  10. 10.

    I don’t think young women are discouraged from serving missions. In my local area, almost as many young women serve as men, and those who don’t serve a mission are generally marrying in the temple.

    There is a fine line between expecting women to serve, and yet also sending the message that a temple marriage is also a worthy alternative.

    I have read that at least Elder Scott and President Benson had dated their wives, served their own mission, and then waited for their wife to serve a mission. It does need to be made clear that this is not the only possible righteous pattern.

    In my own family, both a daughter and daughter-in-law had put in their mission paperwork when it was made clear to them that they should marry a certain young man. In one case, the sister knew that she would eventually marry him (which she did) and went ahead and served, and the man refused to actually extend an offer of marriage at that time (so that she was not in violation of that policy). In the other case, the woman was impressed that NOW was the time to marry her husband, so she ended up not serving a mission.

    It should be clear that in each case, the decision was their own, there was more than one “right” answer, and they had much encouragement to serve.

  11. 11.

    What about the issue of the sister missionaries’ safety? You brought up the idea of dangerous places but even the most stable of countries is not a safe place for young women, not when 1/4 of college-age American woman have been or will be assaulted. (I maybe mixing up the statistic there but that’s how I remember it from the “Take Back the Night” campaigns at my university.)

    The sad fact is that women are viewed as more vulnerable and thus are targeted for violence — either simple robbery or worse — and unless you start requiring that every sister missionary have a black belt, I don’t see what we can do about it except be exceeding careful about where we send them.

  12. 12.

    I said,

    [President Hinckley] sounds like he’s saying that the second point follows from the first, that because men have an obligation and women do not, women must be discouraged from going.

    Nitsav said,

    Can you elaborate on how exactly you see Hinckley saying this? Are you reading this out of the age difference?

    Good question. I guess it’s my impression based on the fact that he mentioned the priesthood obligation for men and then he immediately mentioned the age difference, and that it was designed to reduce the number of women serving.

  13. 13.

    Another item: at a certain point (although I don’t know what % the tipping point would be), LDS men will think that being an RM is a requirement for a marriage partner and then serving a mission will become a de facto requirement for LDS women because they don’t want to be disadvantaged in the marriage market.

    Thanks for raising this issue, Julie. I hadn’t thought of that at all, but I’m sure you’re right. It would be exacerbated by the larger number of active women than men in the Church, as the RMs might all pair off and leave the non-RM women out in the cold. I’m also not sure where the tipping point would be. I know this just reveals my shocking ignorance, but I don’t even have a sense of what percentage of active women in the Church serve missions. Is it 10%? 20? 30? It does seem like a fairly large percentage, perhaps something like 80, would be needed to make an RMs-only pairing off happen, but I can also see what you’re saying about a tipping point at a lower percentage, where once a certain percentage was reached, the belief by women that they would be pretty much locked out of marriage with an active LDS man if they didn’t serve a mission could drive the percentage up very quickly.

  14. 14.

    if all of those young sisters are out on missions, they are not available to marry all of those RMs looking for wives. . . . Of course no one wants to come out and actually say that.

    Good point, Kevin. I particularly like your mentioning the issue that I guess I kind of assumed, which is that the stated reasons may not match up with the actual reasons because the actual reasons might sound harsh.

    Thanks, queuno, for pointing out that there are benefits to serving a mission–ideally it should make us better people regardless of what we end up doing. All the more reason to let women get some of these benefits as well as men.

    Thanks for the context, Beatrice. Being a man, I guess I wasn’t aware that there was such pressure on women. I wonder how common this experience is. Do more women get the “why are you serving a mission when you should be getting married?” comments, or do more women get the “why aren’t you serving a mission since you’re 21 and not married?” comments. I guess it would all be anecdotal, but I wonder which kind of pressure is more common.

  15. 15.

    I finished my mission in December 1997 and read this Hinckley talk a few weeks before going home. It hurt me in that I felt like I was being told “thanks but no thanks” for my service; that my mission had been merely tolerated. I know many other women serving at that time felt similarly. We felt discouraged.

    10 years later as my fourth sister prepared to serve, she was asked at every interview: do you have a boy that is interested in you? Don’t you have something else to be doing with these years? We appreciate your willingness to serve but….

    I was astounded. It just sounds so condescending. This is discouragement that I find quite offensive.

    Many women who did not serve also do not realize that (single) women (with no dependents) may serve at any time–we have no age bar. And women may serve as many missions as they wish, they just need to leave a 3 year gap in between (to accept proposals, I am sure). I know a woman in an unfortunate marriage who thought she was too old (at 27) to serve and instead married someone she barely knew and had met on-line. I feel so badly for her.

    Officially, the Church seems pretty sister missionary friendly, but as someone mentioned, local leaders seem to feel the need to set up obstacles. I am sure they feel they are executing someone’s wishes, but it sure isn’t very elegant.

    I took time in a recent talk to encourage young women in my branch to consider missionary service as an option in their life. I don’t know a sister who is sorry she served.

  16. 16.

    This is an interesting thread. Thanks, Ziff!
    When Kevin said

    if all of those young sisters are out on missions, they are not available to marry all of those RMs looking for wives

    it didn’t make sense to me. Let’s say they did encourage sister missionaries both verbally and by lowering the age limit (or even maintaining it). There would be a few years with a girl-shortage, but the cycle would balance out pretty quickly. There would probably be a lot more “Dear Johns’ if girls and boys were serving at 19. They would just marry people their age. I really don’t see how having women serve missions, especially at age 19, would affect their duty to be wives and mothers. Although I didn’t serve a mission, I was always jealous of girls who did, and a little resentful sometimes that I wasn’t encouraged, expected, or even allowed to go at the same time as my boy friends. I was asked at a BYU married ward to give a talk on why women who haven’t served missions are equal to those who have. There was a sense of inferiority felt by women who married young and without the unique learning experiences a mission brings.
    As far as prospects for marriage being reduced for women RMs, I wonder if this is fact or myth. I have many family members (sister, cousins, etc) who served missions and aren’t married more than 5 years later. I even heard a friend say, “well, she served a mission, that’s why she’s not married.” If this is really a concern among the general authorities, it makes sense that they would let women serve at 19.
    I’m interested to hear if others think that serving a mission lowers a woman’s prospects of getting married, either because of #9, or because she’s gone during the prime marrying age.

  17. 17.

    Re #11: I remember attending a leadership meeting in a small southern Utah town. Elder Ballard was present and made the comment that the church is very careful where it sends sister missionaries and there are only so many places to send them at present. If sisters were more actively invited to serve, there would be nowhere to send them. This was about 10 years ago, I think.

  18. 18.

    Tanya Sue:

    I wonder if female missions are going to go like women administering did.

    That’s a really interesting comparison. I can see what you’re saying about how women serving as missionaries might get progressively less tolerated.

    One thing I wonder, though, is how it came to be that the Church allowed for women to be missionaries in the first place. Weren’t all the 19th century missionaries male? (I’m totally guessing.) If this is the case, then there must have been a time when the change was in the opposite direction that you describe: women went from not being allowed to serve to being allowed. (Again, this is all conjecture–if I’m wrong about how things were in at the beginning of the Church, I’m wrong about the whole thing.) I’d like to hope that the overall historical trend is more in this direction, that even as encouragement for women serving might wax and wane, it will eventually reach the point where the only barrier to women serving is that they’re not obligated to because they don’t hold the priesthood. (And I’d like to see that barrier removed too, but that’s a topic for another thread. ;) )

    Naismith:

    In my local area, almost as many young women serve as men,

    That’s interesting, but I don’t think it’s evidence that women aren’t discouraged from going. Women may be particularly determined to serve, or it’s just a case of there being more worthy women than men. My impression is that President Hinckley was pretty clear about discouraging women from serving, and whether they listen or not is another matter.

    Spectator, thanks for sharing your experience. I had some memory of reading that some women at the time of the talk had exactly the reaction you describe, but I hesitated to mention it because that sounded like pretty weak evidence, even by the standards of the bloggernaccle. :) I’m really sorry that your missionary service was devalued.

    I don’t know a sister who is sorry she served.

    And to the degree that this is generally true, it seems like a really good summary argument for allowing more women to serve (e.g., by lowering the age to 19). If women benefit like men do, why not let more of them enjoy the benefit?

  19. 19.

    Proud Daughter of Eve:

    even the most stable of countries is not a safe place for young women, not when 1/4 of college-age American woman have been or will be assaulted.

    I suspect that being engaged in missionary work might be considerably more safe than living a normal life. Consider that many women who are assaulted are assaulted by people they know, frequently in the context of romantic relationships. Sister missionaries have the advantages of (1) not being involved in romantic relationships, (2) never being alone, and (3) never being out late at night. Sure, they’re still going to be at some risk, but I don’t think it’s likely to be as bad as the 1/4 statistic you cite.

    John:

    Elder Ballard was present and made the comment that the church is very careful where it sends sister missionaries and there are only so many places to send them at present. If sisters were more actively invited to serve, there would be nowhere to send them.

    I wonder if he was talking about particular areas or entire missions when he said the Church is careful about where it sends sisters. I suspect he meant missions. Certainly in my (very limited) experience, all in the U.S., elders and sisters sometimes swap in and out of areas, suggesting that there are many where sisters could be serving but are not serving all the time. Anyway, if I’m right, though, about his meaning missions, I still don’t see why entire missions that are considered safe enough for sisters couldn’t be converted to sisters only, like the Temple Square Mission is. Sure, that mission is unique in that investigators aren’t taught over a period of time or baptized, but I see no reason to doubt that a mission consisting only of sisters could succeed in teaching people over time, and call on members of local wards and branches to perform baptisms.

    My mission (in the U.S., in the early 90s) had about 200 missionaries at any one time. Typically there were about 20-30 sisters, I think. I would be surprised if many areas in it would be deemed unsafe for sisters. Really, I would be surprised if any areas would be. So if it had been converted to sisters only, it would have allowed for at least 6 times as many sisters to serve as were at the time.

    I guess all of this is a roundabout way of saying that I wonder if Elder Ballard was saying that there were few places to assign more sisters, while maintaining the typical pattern of having only a few sisters in each mission.

  20. 20.

    I remember that this talk came while I was on my mission. I felt at the time that Pres. Hinckley was addressing the problem of women being pressured to go on missions. I thought he was speaking to the dads and bishops and boyfriends who were telling sisters how important it was, that they would only marry an RM, that they needed the testimony building, whatever. I felt like he was saying that sister missionaries were great, but that the men had no place in telling them what to do.

    I spoke with other sisters at the time, and was surprised to find out that they mostly felt as you do, that women were being discouraged from serving. I still think he was saying that the men should mind their own business. And that includes discouraging women from serving. I don’t think he was saying to make it harder, I think some bishops/dads/boyfriends have just read into it what many women have, and have started to try to swing the pendulum the other way, instead of just letting it be a non-issue, as it should be.

  21. 21.

    My impression is that President Hinckley was pretty clear about discouraging women from serving, and whether they listen or not is another matter.

    Um, how can they “listen” when they are not in the room?

    Let’s be clear that the original quote cited was from a General Conference PRIESTHOOD session. So it was never addressed to the women of the church. (Quite the opposite, in fact.)

    Let’s also look at the entire quote. The original post failed to include this part of his talk:

    I certainly do not wish to say or imply that their services are not wanted. I simply say that a mission is not necessary as a part of their lives. Now, that may appear to be something of a strange thing to say in priesthood meeting. I say it here because I do not know where else to say it. The bishops and stake presidents of the Church have now heard it. And they must be the ones who make the judgment in this matter.

    It’s clear that his comments are NOT being addressed to the women of the church. And that women are not to be “discouraged” as much as reassured that, as he said, “your efforts will be as acceptable to the Lord and to the Church whether you go on a mission or do not go on a mission.” But his comments are directed to how priesthood leaders should counsel, not what women should choose.

    If a colleague asks you about whether to take a job right away at the firm where s/he eventually wants to work, or take another job which is usually temporary, very prestigious and a resume line for a lot of industry leaders, and you say that s/he will be a valued asset whichever job s/he takes, is that discouragement of taking one job over the other? I don’t think so.

  22. 22.

    So far as i can tell, Serving a mission is pretty much just as optional for men in the church as women anymore….

  23. 23.

    I was on my mission when the Hinckley speech quoted in the post was given. It seemed to be a very upsetting speech for the sisters actually serving in our mission at the time.

  24. 24.

    Neither President Hinkley specifically nor the Church generally discourage young women from serving missions. They just don’t encourage it. Big difference.

    If they thought that women serving was a bad enough idea that it needed to be discouraged they wouldn’t make it an option. It wouldn’t make sense to facilitate people doing things they don’t want them to do. That would be like telling the membership not to gamble and then putting slot machines on temple square.

    Church leadership’s attitude is “Go if you want, don’t go if you don’t want, and don’t feel like you have a duty to go.”

  25. 25.

    Tom, I don’t know. There’s one line that the sisters in my mission at the time this speech was given took as very direct discouragement, and I have a hard time rebutting their conclusion. It’s this one:

    We do not ask the young women to consider a mission as an essential part of their life’s program.

    Is it possible to serve a mission, and make all of those sacrifices, while still holding an understanding that the mission isn’t an important part of one’s life? A pretty discouraging thought, to say the least.

  26. 26.

    Ziff, sorry for the book but….

    Weren’t all the 19th century missionaries male? (I’m totally guessing.)

    According to Women and Authority by Maxine Hanks the first sister missionary was in 1850-Louisa Barnes Pratt. There were 220 sisters serving missions 1838-1898, of which 9 were single sisters. The call initially went out to sisters because in England people would listen to the sisters and not the elders. In 1898 the church stopped specifically inviting sisters to serve missions, but women still served for voluntary reasons or reasons due to circumstances.

    In 1901 the sisters serving in England were officially a success. In 1921 David O McKay said that almost without exception the sisters were superior to men in “ability, keen insight, and energetic service”. In 1928 Richard R. Lyman reported that another mission president had requested to “send more young women into the mission field”.

    Between 1913 and 1917 women were 22% of the field. During WWII is was 40% sisters. 1951 President McKay counseled leaders not to call sisters until they were 23 because the responsibility lies on the priesthood.

    1969 Improvement Era states that maybe women aren’t called because their job is to stay home and write the elders. (OUCH!). 1972 Elder Arthur Anders states that nearly every girl would benefit greatly from serving a mission. 1977 Thomas Monson notes that full-time missionary work is a priesthood calling. He added that while marriage is a woman’s foremost responsibility the church was happy to have them.

    Basically, sisters were called to serve from the beginning. At this point I have erased my bitter comments on the subject 3 times so I will stop before they sneak back in….

  27. 27.

    RT,
    I find that easy to rebut. That line doesn’t imply that a mission isn’t an important part of one’s life. It’s saying that, in contrast to young men, young women shouldn’t see serving a mission as something they’re expected to do, as something that is an essential part of being a faithful Latter-day Saint. It’s restating what President Hinkley already said: that young women aren’t under the same obligation to serve missions as young men.

  28. 28.

    Just for a fun anecdote, my DH and I served our missions at the same time. He served when he turned 22, and I went out at 21. Maybe it works better when men & women serve at the same time in opposite parts of the world…less worrying about that special someone running off with another person…
    Anyway, I had my first truly negative experience with unrighteous dominion on my mission – the elders acted as if their priesthood power somehow gave them ultimate and final authority over me; one time they even called me and asked how my companion was supposed to learn to respect priesthood authority since I talked back to the AP’s in her presence. Experiences like this made me a stronger feminist because the authority abuse made me very, very angry. I don’t think this is a reason why sisters aren’t encouraged to serve, but it’s the closest, I think, that many women get to seeing the dark side of the priesthood hierarchy and the bureacracy.
    As far as PDoE’s comment about safety, I don’t think that’s applicable. In my current ward, sisters were in one of the more dangerous areas for several years. I was in an area that my companion lovingly called ‘the bronx,’ a heavily drug-infested neighborhood. I agree with Ziff, being a missionary is probably safer than normal life, due to the reasons he listed.
    I also agree with Kevin, it’s the elephant in the room….women aren’t around to marry if they’re on missions. I hope, however, that with the trend of marrying later, this point could become less important, allowing more women the opportunity to serve missions and not feel as though the marriage wagon is passing them by.

  29. 29.

    I haven’t read all the comments, so I apologize for any redundancy.

    I am going out on a limb here, mostly from anecdotes form my own mission in south america. I would say that we need to remember that GAs speak to the entire world here, not just to the US. My experience is that some women from other countries serve missions (in their own countries) in hope to find a spouse for later. Very few areas have a solid dating pool, and those that do suffer from fierce competition. If they can find a suitable candidate for correspondence after the mission, they don’t have to worry about finding a spouse from the start.

    You may now commence to throw rocks.

  30. 30.

    When I was on my mission, Elder Nelson came and took the time to specifically talk to the sisters and tell them they were called to be missionaries where they were at before the foundation of the world, just as much as any man was called to the priesthood. I can’t remember exactly how he said it, but that was the gist of it…

  31. 31.

    Neither President Hinkley specifically nor the Church generally discourage young women from serving missions. They just don’t encourage it. Big difference.

    I think it’s a bit stronger than a failure to encourage. President Hinckley explicitly says that the reason for the age difference is so that fewer women will go:

    Over a period of many years, we have held the age level higher for them in an effort to keep the number going relatively small.

    That sounds like some degree of discouragement to me.

  32. 32.

    There were a few areas in my mission that were specifically sister areas–elders were not allowed to enter, even for district meetings. Some were branches where elders had specifically caused problems before and the branch would only support sisters; others housed red-light districts or (true–this was Japan) electronics clearinghouses that were deemed too much temptation for the boys.

    With no sisters serving, those areas would have no missionaries.

  33. 33.

    Good point, woundedhart and Naismith (#20 and #21) that President Hinckley’s talk was given in priesthood session, so it may have been primarily directed at priesthood leaders to ask them to back off pressuring women to serve missions.

    Um, how can they “listen” when they are not in the room?

    Naismith, while you make a good point, your condescending tone is not welcome.

    It’s not as though women never find out what’s said in priesthood session, or as though they’re encouraged to ignore it. On the contrary, I think talks from priesthood session are frequently used in “teachings for our time” lessons, just as are talks from relief society and young women’s sessions.

    Tanya Sue, no worries about the book. Thanks so much for posting this! It’s exactly the kind of information I very much like to know, but am far too lazy to find out myself. ;) It’s interesting to hear how often the message to women wanting to serve missions has gone back and forth, especially in light of points like this,

    In 1921 David O McKay said that almost without exception the sisters were superior to men in “ability, keen insight, and energetic service”.

    a pattern which I think continues today.

    Tom,

    Neither President Hinkley specifically nor the Church generally discourage young women from serving missions. They just don’t encourage it. Big difference.

    I agree that that’s a big difference. My impression, though, is that the Church currently doesn’t forbid it, but doesn’t encourage it either. Kind of like getting tattoos or watching R-rated movies. In fact, I think it would be a big step forward if the Church merely didn’t encourage women to serve missions rather than actively discouraging it. I think Lynnette is right on in citing President Hinckley’s coming out and saying that the age for women is set high intentionally to reduce the number of women serving.

    Also, as Naismith pointed out, President Hinckley prefaced this whole discussing by saying,

    I certainly do not wish to say or imply that their [women's] services are not wanted.

    In other words, he acknowledged that what he was about to say might come across as saying that women’s missionary services are not wanted. And clearly this is how what he said came across, at least to a spectator and her associates and to women RoastedTomatoes knows. Not to mention me. It seems loud and clear to me that President Hinckley wanted to discourage women from serving.

    I admit, it’s a fine line to walk to say “you’re not required to do this” while at the same time saying “you can do it if you want.” I’m just saying that I wish the Church would emphasize the latter more than the former, because the current message seems to lean so heavily on “you’re not required to” that it becomes “we would rather you not.”

  34. 34.

    Tom #27, the quote says that serving a mission isn’t “an essential part of [women's] life program.” That’s nearly verbatim a statement that a mission isn’t an important part of a woman’s life. If Hinckley meant something else, as I think he did, he chose his words extraordinarily poorly.

  35. 35.

    Rock magnet,

    we need to remember that GAs speak to the entire world here, not just to the US. My experience is that some women from other countries serve missions (in their own countries) in hope to find a spouse for later.

    [puts rocks down]
    That’s a good point I hadn’t thought of. It kind of relates to Julie’s in #3 that if there are few enough active men in a particular area, and they tend to pair off preferentially with women who are RMs, then as the percentage of women who serves missions increases, it can reach a point where women feel like they have to serve to get married. If I understand you right, you’re saying this tipping point could be reached at lower percentages outside the US than in it.

    VirtualM,

    Anyway, I had my first truly negative experience with unrighteous dominion on my mission . . . Experiences like this made me a stronger feminist because the authority abuse made me very, very angry. I don’t think this is a reason why sisters aren’t encouraged to serve, but it’s the closest, I think, that many women get to seeing the dark side of the priesthood hierarchy and the bureacracy.

    I’m sorry that the elders on your mission introduced you to unrighteous dominion, VirtualM. That sounds nasty. But that’s a fascinating possibility, that you raise (even if you think it’s unlikely). So are you saying that decisions made in priesthood hierarchies are like laws and sausages? ;)

    Jessawhy (#16) I agree with you that if the policy were changed and women were suddenly allowed to serve at 19, any problems with men and women finding their age groups lacking in potential marriage partners would probably vanish quickly. (And given that couples frequently marry with larger age differences than the length of a mission, it may not be noticed at all.) But I wonder if Kevin’s point was that the total pool of potential wives (doesn’t that phrase sound oddly polygamist?) would be smaller at any given time simply because more women would be gone on missions.

    I also agree with you that it’s an interesting question whether serving a mission makes it more likely that a woman will marry or not. On one hand, it’s a great signaling tool to potential husbands that you’re active in the Church. But it also means that you’re out of the game for a while, and with the female to male sex ratio of active members increasing as age increases, and the typical pattern where the husband is a little older than the wife, it seems like a lot of potential dating opportunities to give up. And of course studying the issue would require us to account for the selection bias, where women who serve at 21 have already not gotten married by that age, and so are probably at least slightly different in general than women who are already married by that age.

  36. 36.

    Matt W, I’m encouraged to hear that Elder Nelson reassured sister missionaries that their callings were important.

    Spectator, thanks for bringing up the possibility of sisters-only areas. I would guess that the conditions you mention (e.g., red light districts and big electronics stores) might be common enough that if elders were not assigned to such areas generally, there would be many areas in many missions where elders wouldn’t be assigned, and there would be a need for more sisters.

  37. 37.

    RT (#34): the quote says that serving a mission isn’t “an essential part of [women’s] life program. That’s nearly verbatim a statement that a mission isn’t an important part of a woman’s life.”

    No, the quote says that sisters are not asked to consider a mission as an essential part of their life’s program. The message to sisters is plain: as you put your life’s program together, you don’t need to consider a mission as essential. I honestly can’t see any implication in that that a mission isn’t an important part of a sister missionary’s life and I don’t see how anyone can see that as belittling the service of sister missionaries.

    Ziff: My impression, though, is that the Church currently doesn’t forbid it, but doesn’t encourage it either. Kind of like getting tattoos or watching R-rated movies.

    Way bad examples. Church leadership actively discourages getting tattoos and watching bad movies. They don’t want people doing those things. And of course, they would never facilitate people doing things that they actively discourage. Sisters serving missions isn’t even close to those things. The Church facilitates sisters serving missions. The Church wants sister missionaries. It sets aside buildings at the MTC for sisters and spends (I’m sure) many thousands of dollars per year for their training and support. If I remember right, individual units can help financially support sister missionaries. Sisters can serve at any age past 21. General Authorities seek inspiration from God as to where to call individual sisters. These are not actions of an institution that doesn’t want women serving missions.

    The one and only policy that can be construed as actually discouraging women from serving missions and not just failing to encourage them as much as men is President Hinkleys statement that the age that women can serve is set higher so as to keep the numbers of sisters going relatively low. But even that is a very passive discouragement. And it seems that it’s motivated more by a desire to have the missionary force be majority male than by a feeling that women shouldn’t serve.

  38. 38.

    Tom,

    Way bad examples. Church leadership actively discourages getting tattoos and watching bad movies. They don’t want people doing those things.

    Okay, maybe these aren’t good comparisons in most ways. But I do think the Church discourages women from serving missions just like it discourages all of us from getting tattoos. The important point of comparison I was trying to make is that you can get a tattoo and still be a member of the Church and go to the temple, it’s just discouraged. Just like women can serve a mission “if the idea persists” but it sounds like President Hinckley would really rather they not. Or as Tanya Sue points out, as historically it sounds like women have been sometimes allowed to serve and sometimes not.

  39. 39.

    Tom #37, I feel that this discussion is getting a bit strange. Is essential a near synonym for important or not? Is one’s life program a close synonym for one’s life or not? If something isn’t an important part of one’s life program, does that not imply that the thing in question isn’t as important as the things that are important parts of that life program? The differences here are very, very subtle to say the least. Why, then, do you want to reject the perspective of the sisters who did feel that this statement meant their service was an unimportant part of their lives and therefore felt discouraged?

    To reiterate, I agree with you that Hinckley probably didn’t mean to say that sisters’ missions are unimportant. I’m just saying that the words he chose make it very, very easy to read the phrase we’re discussing as saying so. It was bad speech writing.

  40. 40.

    Tom,

    And of course, they would never facilitate people doing things that they actively discourage. Sisters serving missions isn’t even close to those things.

    Sorry, I meant to add that of course I realize that women serving missions is not discouraged as strongly as getting tattoos.

    Regarding spending money and resources on discouraged activities, what about the money spent on welfare and humanitarian aid? Isn’t failing to be self-reliant discouraged? This is probably a better comparison. The Church discourages failures of self-reliance just like it discourages women serving missions. But if people do fall on hard times, or women persist in the idea of wanting to serve, then the Church will devote money to help them. Because staying alive and preaching the gospel are worthy goals, even if the means people use–losing their jobs and asking for help, or having women do the preaching–aren’t the encouraged methods.

  41. 41.

    RT,
    You’re right that the conversation is getting funny, but we probably see funny stuff in different aspects of it.

    Why, then, do you want to reject the perspective of the sisters who did feel that this statement meant their service was an unimportant part of their lives and therefore felt discouraged?

    Because I think their reading is wrong, and I disagree with you that it is easy to misread that statement as belittling their service. President Hinkley is simply saying that sisters don’t need to give serving a mission a high priority as they plan their lives. I simply can’t see any other reasonable reading of that statement. Maybe it’s because I’m dumb or blind or something. I just don’t see it.

    Ziff,
    I still think you’re way off with the welfare comparison. The Church does not actively facilitate people going broke. It doesn’t want people going broke. It doesn’t devote resources to helping people go broke. Going broke is unequivocally considered a bad thing and is quite actively discouraged. In contrast, the Church does actively facilitate sisters going on missions. It does want sisters to serve. It does devote resources to helping sisters serve.

    The reason you’re having a hard time coming up with an analagous example of something the Church considers a bad thing and actively discourages people from doing while simultaneously actively and purposefully facilitating, it’s because there isn’t an analagous example. The closest thing I can think of is people receiving their endowment before marriage or a mission. But even that is much more discouraged than sisters serving missions and far fewer resources (none, that I’m aware of) are devoted to actively and purposefully facilitiating people making that choice as compared to the resources that are devoted to facilitating sisters’ missionary service.

  42. 42.

    I guess that I read this talk as saying, “Men and women have different roles and responsibilities” which is a consistent message in the church. The best analogy that I can think of is women with children who work. Pres. Hinckley doesn’t get up and say that women who work or serve missions are not valued for what they do, but these activities are both encouraged more in men than in women.

  43. 43.

    Tom,

    I still think you’re way off with the welfare comparison. The Church does not actively facilitate people going broke. It doesn’t want people going broke. It doesn’t devote resources to helping people go broke.

    I’m sorry you don’t like the comparison. I think it’s not half-bad. I agree that the Church doesn’t actively facilitate people going broke. But what the Church does is to help people out when they do go broke. Similarly, the Church doesn’t actively facilitate women getting ideas about serving missions. But if the idea persists, then yes, the Church will facilitate their service. In both cases, the Church doesn’t help people get into the predicament, but it will also help them out.

    Really, though, I don’t want to lose sight of the larger issue, which is not whether you accept any particular comparison to be close enough to be useful. I brought up comparisons to clarify my response to your statement that

    Neither President Hinkley specifically nor the Church generally discourage young women from serving missions. They just don’t encourage it. Big difference.

    If the Church doesn’t discourage or encourage it, why did President Hinckley talk about it at all? To not encourage members to do something, you do just that, you don’t encourage. But for him to come out and make an issue of women serving missions and say that the age is set high so that fewer of them will go and mention that there are women who want to go but are frustrated that they can’t go at 19 like the men sounds like he’s saying that there is a program of actively discouraging women from serving, and furthermore, that it’s working.

    I think the status of being neither encouraged nor discouraged fits nicely with the comparison you cite to people getting endowed before a marriage or mission. I’m not aware of any Church leaders recently standing up in Conference and making this an issue of discussion, saying that there needs to be either more of it or less. They simply haven’t mentioned it, which sounds to me just like neither encouraging or discouraging.

    Contrast that with women serving missions, which has gotten mentioned in Conference, recently in at least in this talk and in Elder Ballard’s 2005 “One More” talk. This isn’t a question that’s just left alone, neither encouraged or discouraged. It’s being brought up.

  44. 44.

    I think we’re losing sight of Ziff’s larger point. The net result of Pres. Hinckley’s statement was fewer female missionaries. It seems therefore blindingly obvious that at least some were discouraged from serving.

  45. 45.

    Tom, the thing is, if you just read the words on the page, the first-order meaning does indeed belittle sisters’ missionary service as unimportant. Or do you disagree that “essential” and “important” are very close in meaning? Or that “life plan” and “life” are very close in meaning? If you agree on both of those points, you have to agree with me that Hinckley — probably inadvertently — told sisters that their missionary service was at least a less important and possibly an unimportant part of their lives. In the context of an overall set of remarks that frankly encourages sisters not to serve missions so that the church isn’t overwhelmed or overburdened or something with too many sisters, I think it’s clear why many sisters read it this way.

  46. 46.

    Mark IV, excellent point. The data imply that probably substantial numbers of women interpreted this talk the way the sisters in my mission did.

  47. 47.

    Naismith, while you make a good point, your condescending tone is not welcome.

    There was NOTHING condescending in my tone. I genuinely believe that the original post misrepresented this issue by not being clear that the advice was directed to priesthood–specifically bishops and stake presidents. Just because I don’t agree with your interpretation does not make me condescending.

    The counsel was NOT given to women themselves. And like Tom, I don’t see anything “discouraging” about the defense of various lifepaths.

    It’s not as though women never find out what’s said in priesthood session, or as though they’re encouraged to ignore it.

    I think that church leaders consider carefully what topics are considered for various audiences, and frame the talk for that group. I think something may be lost when the words are ripped out of context. Witenss the kerfuffle when advice given in General Priesthood for men to get more education was somehow interpreted that women should get less education, or that men shouldn’t marry a woman with more education, etc.

  48. 48.

    I think the status of being neither encouraged nor discouraged fits nicely with the comparison you cite to people getting endowed before a marriage or mission. I’m not aware of any Church leaders recently standing up in Conference and making this an issue of discussion, saying that there needs to be either more of it or less. They simply haven’t mentioned it, which sounds to me just like neither encouraging or discouraging.

    Ziff,
    While I agree with most of what you’ve said here (great post, BTW), I have to disagree with this statement. I know that when I was in college there was specific direction handed down from Salt Lake to Stake Presidents and Bishops that they should not authorize women to get their endowments unless they were getting married or going on a mission. My Stake President even hesitated giving me a recommend to do so, even though I was engaged (because our wedding wasn’t for 2.5 months). I think that if my fiance hadn’t lived in another state and our parents in yet a third state he wouldn’t have given me the recommend. So even though there haven’t been any talks in GC, I think there is definite active discouragement (and in many cases, not just discouragement, but refusal, even if the woman is perfectly worthy).

    Okay, sorry for the complete tangent. Maybe I ought to do a post about this.

  49. 49.

    I think Pres. Hinckley addressed the men in Priesthood meeting to try to get them to stop encouraging women who do not want to serve missions to go out of a sense of duty or guilt or some sense of “I’m not married, so I might as well go on a mission.” Nothing in the talk suggested it is wrong for women to go on missions. Much suggested it is wrong for women to feel compelled to serve by the formal hierarchy.

  50. 50.

    Tom,

    But even that is a very passive discouragement, and it seems that it’s motivated more by a desire to have the missionary force be majority male than by a feeling that women shouldn’t serve.

    That raises what I think is the interesting question here–why is it important that the missionary force be majority male? As long as that’s what the Church wants, it seems that some discouraging of female missionaries is going to be necessary. And I’m not clear on the rationale for keeping the missionary force predominantly male, though Ziff and others have raised some interesting possibilities.

    (Also, on Vada’s tangent, my experience is also that priesthood leaders are very wary of allowing women who aren’t on the verge of a mission or marriage to be endowed. Though that’s just anecdotal, of course, and I don’t know if there’s an actual church-wide policy. I think it would be a great topic for a post.)

  51. 51.

    And, I think it is just as wrong for Priesthood leaders to tell women not to serve. In fact, that’s what I got out of Pres. Hinckley’s talk. “Men, leave the women alone. If they don’t want to serve, don’t compel them. If they want to serve, don’t stand in their way.” I admit that the second half is not explicit, but, based on the audience and the strength with which he told the brethren not to tell the sisters to serve, I think it follows.

  52. 52.

    I would quote this talk to any man who told a woman not to serve a mission.

  53. 53.

    “If the Church doesn’t discourage or encourage it, why did President Hinckley talk about it at all?”

    I really don’t know, but I’ve been in BYU wards where over 50% of girls were RMs and non-RM girls felt a lot of pressure to be so. I know girls who felt bad or selfish about their decision not to serve. I also know that some of them felt insecure about not being RMs; feeling that all the RMs were more spiritually progressed than they.

    I think it possible that President Hinckley and Elder Ballard are simply trying to address these issues.

  54. 54.

    I agree that women are somewhat discouraged from serving missions, since Pres. Hinckley even says that the different age requirements are in place to keep sisters’ numbers lower than they might otherwise be. But I think it takes some hard work to be offended by this talk. To say that a mission is not an essential part of a woman’s life program does not seem patently offensive to me. It means that women have more options, as they don’t have to feel obligated to serve a mission. Maybe the reason women don’t serve at 19 is so they can be going to school and/or otherwise increasing their earning potential so they can put their RM husbands through school. (During the two years they can also save money for when they inevitably get pregnant before their future husbands graduate.) I’m being facetious, but it is somewhat practical, now that I think on it, for one gender to have the obligation and the other to have the flexibility.

  55. 55.

    Vada and Lynnette,

    Thanks for pointing out the failure of the comparison of women serving a mission to unmarried non-missionary members getting their endowments. I agree with you both that that’s a topic that would be interesting to discuss.

    Now that I think about it, my little experience with the issue is similar to yours, Vada. When we were going to get married, my wife had a little difficulty getting a recommend from her bishop to go through the temple when our wedding was still a couple of months away.

  56. 56.

    Mark IV,

    The net result of Pres. Hinckley’s statement was fewer female missionaries. It seems therefore blindingly obvious that at least some were discouraged from serving.

    Great point. Thanks for giving us some focus. In the future, can I just send my posts to you to be edited down to their gist? ;)

  57. 57.

    Let’s chase this tangent for a moment.

    Are we making the claim that it is more difficult for a woman who is contemplating neither marriage nor mission to get her endowment than it is for a man in the same situation? I think it would be easy to make the case that it is harder for a male, because it will be assumed that there is something wrong with him. Why isn’t he serving a mission? Why isn’t he getting married? A 21 year old man faced with those questions would be justified if he envied the victims of the Spanish Inquisition.

    But I agree that it is somewhat annoying for adults to be treated as children who are unable to know their own minds. As I recall from when I used to have access to the handbook, the policy is to not issue recommends for trivial reasons, e.g. my best friend is getting married and so I want to be endowed so I can go into the temple with her.

  58. 58.

    I haven’t read the comments, but let me say that as a father of six–five of whom are girls–I was glad, Glad, GLAD, when Pres. Hinckley gave that talk. I don’t want any well-meaning over-zealous types breathing down my daughters’ necks, making them feel guilty for “not” doing their part in building the kingdom. What’s worse, I don’t want them (my girls) to twist their delicate religious sensibilities all to hell in order to serve a feminist ideology. I want their moral judgement to be clear in these things.

  59. 59.

    Ziff, only if you give me stock options and a 401(K). You need to start sharing the wealth from this gravy train known as ZsDs.

    :-)

  60. 60.

    I think there may be a pre/post mission disconnect here. How do you effectively tell someone that they really don’t need to do something (serve a mission), without implying that the ones who already did were wasting their time?

    Making it clear that putting pressure on young women to serve missions (through fear of spinster-hood, lack of worth, or whatever) is a worthy goal. However, downplaying the public and personal impact a mission can have in a woman’s life is not the best way to do it.

    It seems clear to me that, while President Hinkley’s goal was for leaders, fathers, and potential spouses to ease up on the pressure, enough people (especially local leaders) took it to mean “women shouldn’t serve missions.” That is why the issue is worth addressing.

  61. 61.

    Mark IV,

    Are we making the claim that it is more difficult for a woman who is contemplating neither marriage nor mission to get her endowment than it is for a man in the same situation?

    Good question. I have no idea how gender plays into this; I cited my experience with women being discouraged, because those are the situations I’m aware of. Like you, though, I’d imagine that a 21-year-old unmarried male who hadn’t served a mission would be viewed with some suspicion.

  62. 62.

    It seems that you can hear the idea that missions aren’t “essential” in more than one way. You might hear it along the lines of “there’s more than one legitimate life path, so don’t feel like you have to go on a mission,” as Tom and Naismith are interpreting it. Or you might hear it along the lines of, “a mission for a woman isn’t really an important part of her life,” as RT points out. And while I appreciate the former sentiment, I’m troubled by the fact that the statement so easily lends itself to the latter sentiment as well.

    I’m actually pretty sympathetic to the wanting people to back off and not overly pressure women who don’t want to go. I didn’t serve a mission, and I’m glad that no one made much of a fuss about that. But I would imagine that for many women who choose to serve, they do in fact view their mission as an essential part of their life, so in that context I can see why the statement could sound quite discouraging.

  63. 63.

    It seems like we are discussing the different ways in which Pres. Hinckley’s message was received. Some priesthood leaders stopped “breathing down women’s necks” to serve a mission if they were 21 without prospects for marriage.
    I think there is another way this teaching was applied, however. When I was 20 and semi-seriously dating a guy (now my husband) and mentioned that I wanted to serve a mission. He essentially said he wouldn’t be around when I got back. I don’t blame him for that, he was being honest, and I said the same thing to my freshman boyfriend. But, I can see that Pres. Hinckley’s tone would support an interaction like that. If missionary service is not a woman’s responsibility, the men in her life have no real reason to support her in her desires to serve a mission. I’m sure there are many girls who want to serve missions, but don’t do it because they fear they will lose a chance at marriage. I don’t think it’s good, but it makes sense, especially considering Pres. Hinckley’s comments. If the age was changed and sisters were encouraged to serve, these problems may be eliminated (but I suppose banning sisters from serving would solve the problem as well.)
    Also, I wonder if there has been an increase or decrease in the percentage of sisters serving in the last 5-10 years, and how that correlates with the growth in number of singles (or rise of the avg. marriage age in the church). It would be interesting if there was a connection . . .

  64. 64.

    I don’t think Pres. Hinckley’s remarks would have been so misunderstood as discouraging sister missionairies from serving (if that indeed was not what he intended) if he had expressed something more than utterly tepid, minimal, and grudging appreciation for the service of sister missionairies. I say this based not only on the text but, having heard the talk when it was orginally presented, based on his tone of voice and body language.

  65. 65.

    If missionary service is not a woman’s responsibility, the men in her life have no real reason to support her in her desires to serve a mission.

    Of course they do, their love for the woman and wanting her to grow, and following the promptings of the Spirit. My son-in-law who waited for my daughter felt strongly that her serving a mission was important (and he felt that even more strongly after their marriage). And he had to wait 22 months for her, because she served in an area with a foreign MTC, which means there was four months from her call until entering the MTC to allow for getting a visa, immunizations, etc.

    While Pres. Hinckley made it clear that missionary service is not a part of a woman’s life plan in general, of course it is part of a life plan for some individual women. My daughter’s patriarchal blessing was quite specific about this.

  66. 66.

    Actually, I think it should be the men who get irked about the unfairness in missiionary age. Single men can only serve from ages 19-25. They used to grant exceptions for recent converts, but I haven’t heard of that lately. I’ve known several men who got their lives in gear a bit later and were disappointed that they could not serve.

    Single women can serve at any age. My daughter once had a companion who was 50 years old.

    And here’s the thing: if a single missionary doesn’t have the resources to serve, general missionary funds can be used for single men, and single women entering the field up to age 39. (But only for the actual mission expenses, not for the dental/medical issues that have to be resolved prior to service, which is so often a barrier.)

    So it’s hard for me to see the church “discouraging” women serving when the church literally supports women on their missions.

  67. 67.

    Mark IV:I think we’re losing sight of Ziff’s larger point. The net result of Pres. Hinckley’s statement was fewer female missionaries. It seems therefore blindingly obvious that at least some were discouraged from serving.

    I don’t think that statistic makes your conclusion blindingly obvious. Increased discouragement is one possible reason for the decrease. Another real possibility is that the decrease in sister missionaries was due to decreased encouragement/pressure to serve missions. Or it could even be increased encouragement/pressure to get married or get an education.

    RT: Or do you disagree that “essential” and “important” are very close in meaning? Or that “life plan” and “life” are very close in meaning?

    “Essential” and “important” are very close in meaning. But the use of the phrase “life program” (not “plan”) as well as the context makes it clear that he’s talking about people for whom missionary service is potentially in the future, not people who are serving or who have served, and that he’s talking about prioritizing while planning. I guess I might be able to see how one could interpret that statement as belittling service, but only if it was read as a stand-alone statement, ignoring context, by somebody prone to be offended. I know that’s harsh, but I still just don’t think it’s easy to read it that way.

    Ziff:

    If I don’t want my kids to go on missions, how smart would it be for me to offer to pay for it? If I offer to pay for it and if I actively and purposefully facilitate their serving missions by other means, can I really be said to be discouraging them? If I don’t want my kids to smoke how smart would it be for me to tell them that if they do get a persistent desire to smoke, I’ll buy their cigarettes? That would be insane. If I do offer to facilitate their smoking that means that either I want them to smoke or I don’t care whether they smoke or not. Or the third option is that I don’t want them to smoke and I’m an idiot.

    My problem with your comparisons isn’t that I don’t like them, it’s that they’re not analagous. Frankly, and I’m sorry to say this, I find your idea that the Church views sisters’ desire to serve a mission as a malady comparable to going broke totally unreasonable. You want me to believe that the Church actively and purposefully facilitates people doing something that it doesn’t want them to do. If that’s the case, then the leadership is totally insane.

  68. 68.

    I knew from a very young age that I needed to serve a mission. There was never a doubt in my mind that I should go — I felt called by the Lord, and I knew that is what I was supposed to do with my life when I reached age 21. I loved my mission, but it was HARD — hard work, long hours, lots of discouragement, but also lots of joy and blessings. When there was discouragement and hard times, I always knew why I was there and who I was serving. I had a purpose, and it gave me a reason to get up every day and serve to the best of my abilities.

    There were many sisters in my mission at that time (early 90′s), and when asked why they were serving a mission, they said something along the lines of, “Well, I was 21 and I wasn’t dating anyone, and it seemed like a good thing to do.” I have to be honest when I say that these sisters were the WORST missionaries. When things got tough, they couldn’t hack it. They got sick a lot, they didn’t get along with their companions, and they had a hard time keeping mission rules.

    I’m not saying that I was the greatest missionary, but I knew that I was called. I don’t think it’s right to discourage sisters to serve missions, but I do feel like the sisters that serve should feel that they are called to serve, not that it’s something to do if they don’t have any prospects for marriage. (Maybe the same thing should be said for the Elders too — there are plenty of men that go on a mission that don’t really want to be there and have the same problem that I described above.)

  69. 69.

    I think #4 above in the orignal post should at least be considered more seriously.

    It occurs to that in my time in the church many, many missionaries who go to difficult areas (my husband for one, who went to Scotland) come away from their missions with a vast amount of leadership experience, not to mention dealing with the hard knocks of a tough mission, but very little that has acutally been accomplished in terms of baptisms or retention of membership. I have come to think this is really okay.

    In our area here (Phoenix Arizona) very, very few people are baptized by the missionaries who weren’t already prepared in some way, either through contact with members, or their own seeking. Missionaries can certainly facilitate baptisms, but I’m not entirely convinced that it works quite the way I imagined, or the way I had been led to believe from countless church talks and seminary film strips. It sounds horribly jaded of me to say, but about 90% of the those the missionaries do find on their own and baptize, end up being welfare problems and other burdens for the church.

    This plus my own experiences with church leadership (admittedly anectodal and perhaps not representative of the church as a whole) leads me to think that perhaps the church really does see missionary service as way to help prepare men to lead in the gospel.

    In our ward right now, the visiting teaching statistics vs home teaching is: 89% VT, 45% HP, 7% EQ. Maybe this means nothing. Maybe it means something. I don’t know. But I do think the church has a more difficult time getting men to perform their duties than women, and I’m not sure how it all ties together, but I suspect it does.

  70. 70.

    What about the issue of the sister missionaries’ safety? You brought up the idea of dangerous places but even the most stable of countries is not a safe place for young women, not when 1/4 of college-age American woman have been or will be assaulted. (I maybe mixing up the statistic there but that’s how I remember it from the “Take Back the Night” campaigns at my university.)

    The MTC used to stress how being on a mission was statistically safer than being on a college campus or being on the streets. Even considering the high-profile assaults against missionaries, it’s still safer. And really bad areas are being closed down to sisters (although, my wife served in the bad areas in LA).

    (At any rate, I’ve heard a few talks where the 1/4 rate has been questioned — the methodology used to count it.)

    ?But I think it takes some hard work to be offended by this talk.

    You’re new here, right?

    The net result of Pres. Hinckley’s statement was fewer female missionaries. It seems therefore blindingly obvious that at least some were discouraged from serving.

    By overzealous local leaders that misinterpreted Hinckley’s comments, sure. By Hinckley, not so much.

    It seems clear to me that, while President Hinkley’s goal was for leaders, fathers, and potential spouses to ease up on the pressure, enough people (especially local leaders) took it to mean “women shouldn’t serve missions.” That is why the issue is worth addressing.

    Absolutely! But let’s be careful to point the blame in GBH’s direction. I don’t think he was trying to discourage them at all. Why MUST we persist in laying local problems at SLC’s feet?

    To me, equally offensive as discouraging missions in favor of nonexistent marriage prospects is the discouraging of missionary service by some YW leaders in favor of career/grad school, etc. There is a dynamic with some YW leaders that careers and grad school are more important than missions or marriage.

    Non-sequitor, but an interesting point: I heard a woman in my ward once say that any single sister who insists that women should hold the priesthood — better be prepared to serve a mission first to make her point.

  71. 71.

    I wanted to add –
    “We do not ask the young women to consider a mission as an essential part of their life’s program.” Seems to me like a a statement intended to help the leadership understand that women are not suppose to feel any sort of requirement to go on a mission. And perhaps by extension to help young women understand this point as well. I don’t think he meant to imply that if you did go on a mission, it wasn’t an essential part of your life’s plan. Certainly he couldn’t have meant that. I think he meant that young women making a plan shouldn’t feel compelled by their leaders or families to include a mission in that plan. I would venture to guess a personal decision to go on a mission would be very different that pressure from the outside to do so. Boys in the church are certainly pressured regularly to carry out a misison, so I think the caution here was to clarify that girls shouldn’t be subjected to that same pressure.

    (and sorry for the typos in the prior comment…I really need to work on that)

  72. 72.

    Tom, # 67, queuno, # 70,

    I think that GBH wanted to reduce the rate at which sisters applied for missions. His statement accomplished that. To debate whether he actively discouraged them, or just didn’t encourage them, is to engage in hairsplitting, imo.

    Sure, he was speaking to bishops and SPs, but let’s give him credit for being smart enough to know where his instructions would lead. When the leadership tells bishops that they are concerned about immorality among the youth, you can take it to the bank that within 6 weeks, youth firesides all across North America will feature explicit instructions about the law of chastity.

  73. 73.

    # 72 may be true, but a look at the methodology may lead to an interesting reason as to why. Again, Pres. Hinckley himself stated that he did not want to discount women’s service. Also, he was talking to the Priesthood brethren, not the sisters. And he never said that women should not serve. The decrease in numbers may well be explained by a decrease in the number of women guilted into serving missions. I think this was Pres. Hinckley’s intent. I do not think it was his intent to say that women who wish to serve should be discouraged from doing so.

    Assume that all women who wished to serve were serving prior to the talk and that a number were also serving who did not wish to serve. Then, following the talk, only those who wished to serve continued to come into the mission field. This would yield a decrease, and it would be a good thing.

    I realize that Pres. Hinckley’s talk can be read to discourage women from serving missions. As has been demonstrated, it can also be read to clarify that women who do not wish to serve should not be pressured into doing so. And he laid out the doctrinal reasons why this is so. Given that there are two likely readings, I believe the second was his intent. I also believe that anyone who thinks otherwise, especially leaders who discourage women from serving because of this talk, are wrong. But I can see where those who are concerned about women’s opportunities are coming from. At the end of the day, I think those concerned with women’s opportunities should adopt this talk, and tell the men that they (the women) have choice. According to Pres. Hinckley women should not be coerced.

  74. 74.

    This certainly has been an interesting–and lively!–discussion. I’ve been meaning to post something about sister missionary life ever since Melyngoch went into MTC incommunicado, but Ziff beat me to it and did a much better job laying out the interpretive complexities than I could have. I don’t think I could be a social scientist, but it’s certainly handy to have all of you social scientists around.

    I have to admit that when I first read President Hinckley’s talk I understood it as simply reminding us all that women don’t have an obligation to serve missions and that we ought to consider other alternatives (marriage, work, graduate school) equally honorable in a way we clearly don’t consider the same other alternatives equally honorable for men. I was really surprised when so many people I knew read it as actively discouraging women from serving missions because he seemed–in my reading, anyway–simply to be saying that missions are optional for women. (I read him as approving of his granddaughters’ missions, but to my surprise others I know read him as disapproving of them.) It’s really incredibly unfortunate that, as RT noted and as I saw in a number of other circumstances, sisters felt discouraged from serving or even were outright told that they ought not to be serving.

    I do remember encountering the attitude, particularly at BYU, that missionary service was the mark of a superior woman. I was even explicitly told as much: a “certain kind” of woman–more intelligent, more ambitious, more spiritually mature and independent–serves a mission, and lesser women, incurious about the broader world, with no further ambitions than early marriage, content to rely on their husband’s superior knowledge of spiritual things, stayed home. And a mission can be such an intense, life-changing experience that I can see how in BYU singles wards, for example, female RMs might easily focus on their shared mission experiences and leave non-RMs out in the cold.

    That’s an attitude I really dislike. It’s clearly so untrue and so unfair. I’ve known so many women I greatly admire who haven’t served missions, including three of my sisters. And I do hate to see something whose meaning is so intensely personal and spiritual reduced to a line on some imaginary gospel resume.

    I also think that the idea that all things being equal, a female RM is preferable to a female non-RM is ultimately traceable to a sexist valuation of traditionally masculine activities which increases a woman’s status as she participates in the masculine domain. (Perhaps one reason the GAs are worried about too many sister missionaries is that at a certain point, a mission would cease to be a masculine experience!) This discussion has reminded me of an MTC experience I’d almost forgotten: I remember standing in the dorm bathroom in my plaid robe brushing my teeth one night overhearing other sisters discuss how some women didn’t need to serve missions because they were already so spiritual. However, we women who were in the MTC weren’t that spiritual and thus needed a mission to get us into shape. It fascinates me the way this line of reasoning mirrored the reasoning usually offered for why women don’t have the priesthood. Just like the men in our lives, we women claim we do masculine things, such as serve a mission, to compensate for spiritual inadequacy, thus deflecting the charge of status-seeking that might inevitably accompany masculine activity.

    All this, of course, begs the question of social pressure on young men to serve. If it’s bad for women to feel social pressure to serve missions for no better reason than that they’re 21 and without immediate marriage prospects, is it also bad for young men to feel social pressure for no better reason than that they’re 19?

    But I’ve gone on far too long already and that’s really a topic for another post.

  75. 75.

    I think one major piece of this topic has been left out. President Hinckley re-visited this topic some time after his original October 1997 address. I wish I could remember where, it may have been in a Worldwide Leadership Training broadcast, since I can’t seem to find the quote in the General Conference Archives.

    Basically, he stated that no one should stand in the way of sisters who want to serve missions, but that no one should be telling unmarried 21-year old sisters that it was their obligation to serve.

    I spoke with my mission president, who was still serving in Oct 1997. He said they saw an immediate drop in sisters entering the mission. One sister, upon arriving at the mission home from the MTC, recounted how she had been told “No” by her bishop and stake president 3 times before they would finally recommend her for missionary service. These brethren cited President Hinckley’s original remarks. Thus, I think President Hinckley’s clarification clearly establishes what many have said on this thread: sisters should not be coerced or pressured into missionary service, but those that prayerfully desire to serve have every right to do so.

    I’ll keep searching for that quote.

  76. 76.

    I have found this thread exceptionally interesting and the comments very well reasoned. I don’t think I have any general insights beyond those already set forth; but perhaps the anecdotal experience of an older woman might be relevant.

    I went on my mission to Europe in 1961, age 27. At that time (talking in generalities here), women missionaries were much older than the average age now –most were in their thirties and forties. In the popular conception, “lady missionaries” were thought to be, shall we say, wallflowers. (Of course, I’m trying hard to avoid the atrocious terms “spinsters” and “old maids, ” which were still very much in circulation then. ) I believe that then as now, most LM’s went on missions for a wide variety of reasons, from dedication to desperation. There were superb women missionaries, and awful ones. (Just as with the men.)

    But rather suddenly, the demographics began to change. More and more younger women came to serve. The atmosphere shifted. One day, a stunning young blonde in a chic red suit came to our mission. Her appearance seemed to underline that a new day had dawned. As well as beautiful, she was very bright, and totally devoted to her calling. More like her appeared. And on average, they somewhat out-performed the male missionaries. In my obviously limited experience, sister missionaries were welcomed, encouraged, and appreciated.

    But still, in the 70′s, many people were uneasy about so many YOUNG women going on missions. I heard one member of the Young Women’s General Board say with a frown, apologetically, “I don’t know why our girls keep wanting to go on missions; we certainly aren’t encouraging them.”

    But as I recall, church members weren’t encouraging young women to get college degrees then, either. A couple of years at BYU, yes. But a B. A. wasn’t important, except possibly as something to “fall back on.” And as for graduatedegrees–dangerous, dangerous. The reasons against too much education included many already discussed on this thread re missions: postponing marriage, postponing child-bearing, and shifting the balance of leadership expectations and skills.

    So it seems as if the pendulum has swung several times, from an attitude that said, “Women who go on missions are losers” to one that said, “Women who don’t go on missions are losers.” Perhaps both these attitudes represent general membership stances, rather than church leadership guidelines. President Hinckley has always seemed to me one who seeks balance; could that have been his aim in the statement under discussion?

  77. 77.

    Elouise! Thanks for your perspective. It fascinates me to hear how the pendulum has swung so far in such a relatively few decades.

    Lovely to see you here!

  78. 78.

    Elouise, thanks for your comment. It is so interesting to hear about the back-and-forth of perceptions of women serving missions. I like your view of President Hinckley’s intent as looking for some balance between the extremes.

    Eddie, I would love to hear the quote from President Hinckley when you find it.

    Bandanamom, I live in greater Phoenix too. It’s nice to know that we can all share common pursuits this time of year: stay inside where it’s cool and blog blog blog!

    Xena

    I knew from a very young age that I needed to serve a mission. There was never a doubt in my mind that I should go — I felt called by the Lord, and I knew that is what I was supposed to do with my life when I reached age 21.

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Xena. This is a whole other tangent, but I envy people who feel called to serve as you did, and as I know my sister Melyngoch has. As a guy, I think I was so overwhelmed by the expectation that I serve that I never had any real sense of calling. Serving a mission was just what I was supposed to do, so I did it. I sometimes wonder if it might not have been more meaningful if I had felt more of a calling like you describe.

  79. 79.

    Elouise, you mentioned the opposition in the Church to women attending graduate school. What’s your impression of how that sentiment has changed over time? Do anti-mission and anti-schooling feelings tend to move together, perhaps because of their potentially similar origin–as you noted, the concern that they signaled women were setting aside marriage and childrearing?

    I know several of us here are familiar with the experience of being a Mormon woman in graduate school (Eve blogged about it here, for example); I was just wondering if you could provide some sense of change over time like you have for the mission issue.

  80. 80.

    But as I recall, church members weren’t encouraging young women to get college degrees then, either. A couple of years at BYU, yes. But a B. A. wasn’t important, except possibly as something to “fall back on.” And as for graduatedegrees–dangerous, dangerous. The reasons against too much education included many already discussed on this thread re missions: postponing marriage, postponing child-bearing, and shifting the balance of leadership expectations and skills.

    I was at BYU from 1977-1980, and that wasn’t quite the message I got at that point in time. The advice I heard was to get the most education I could so that I spend the least time away from my kids as I earned money.

    I found that to be very solid advice, and it was life-changing for me, since I had never before considered the option of part-time employment.

    I remember female administrators (Marilyn Arnold) talking at the Marriott center, stressing the importance of finishing the degree.

    I also think it significant that BYU “put their money where their mouth was” by facilitating young moms in finishing their degree. I got a few scholarships to take courses by correspondence. A neighbor had a scholarship to go to school part-time (she went at night, and their kids were never in daycare). I knew several moms in my summer classes who lived elsewhere and came to BYU for the summer only, living at Helaman Halls with their children, where meals were provided and they could focus on school for 8 weeks and finish off a degree or re-certify in their profession. (If this sounds familiar, such an idea was presented in THE FEMININE MYSTIQUE.) That was how June Oaks (wife of Dallin Oaks) finished her degree in sociology.

    Contrast that to the “world’s” view, in which women are expected to do things the way men do and no allowances are made for mothers of young children. I’m sad to report that the university where I currently work does not even allow part-time enrollment.

    Some of my neighbors at BYU also had an impact on forming my attitudes. One family had two little children, and both parents were going to law school. They had taken the LSAT together, her studying to help him do better, but she never considered law school herself because of the children. BYU called her as the application deadline neared, to make sure she was applying. When she explained that wasn’t planning on law school, she had just taken the test to help her husband, she got a visit from a female faculty member, also a mother, who encouraged her to apply and convinced her that law would offer part-time opportunities. Each finals week, one of their moms would come and help with the little ones while they both studied.

    I also had a neighbor who supported her family working two days a week while her husband watched their children. She was a nurse anesthetist, which is one of the higher-paying nursing specialties. She could pretty much set her own schedule, and earned enough for them to get by in struggling student mode (actually, their car was MUCH nicer than most).

  81. 81.

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Naismith. It’s encouraging to hear how supportive BYU was of you and other mothers in school.

  82. 82.

    I have to say the experience of Naismith is not the experience I had a few years later from 85-89 at BYU and Ricks. During that time period we had the big talk from President Benson about women staying home with their children, that this was the preference and they should only be working if absolutely necessary. It’s been years since I looked at that talk but I remember it very well.

    At the time I was really enjoying college and fully expected to continue in school until I gradutated. However, after this talk, my whole perspective shifted and the mood on campus shifted as well. I remember having a very long discussion about this in a couple of my classes and the consensus was that women should only be going to school as long as necessary to get married, but that after that, perhaps, having children would certainly be more important. In addition a humanities professor I had suggested that it would be very difficult to be motived to finish a degree knowing that you really shouldn’t be using it unless out of absolute dire circumstances after graduation (this was commonly thought to be only in case your spouse died).

    The prophet was pretty clear about it at the time. I felt very conflicted, but ultimately, I sort of bought it. I became rather unmotivated about school. My roommate who had been planning on going to Law School scraped those plans completely and began focusing heavily on finding a husband. She found a guy I considered beneath her in every way – but available at the time and willing – she ended up very unhappily married and 10 years later, divorced.

    I can’t think of a single one of my roommates or girlfriends from that time who did not get the same message I did. None of us finished our degrees. How sad is that?

    At 40 I have been doing the corresponence study BYU thing to finish as I now really want to go to graduate school. I actually attended classes on campus this summer and it was really great.

    However, BYU has made it rather difficult to attend school there if you are a mom trying to just live on campus for a few months. It’s not allowed. Your spouse has to be with you, you have to be divorced or forget it. I ended up having to stay with a friend of the family and I commuted back and forth to Phoenix every weekend. That’s sort of neither here nor there, but I did feel that they were not particularly keen to accomodate the situation. So it seems to me that the pendulum continues to swing back and forth on these issues both within the church and at BYU.

  83. 83.

    Thanks bandanamom. I’m sorry to hear that BYU and Ricks gave you so little support. It sounds like President Benson’s talk really had an effect.

    As bad as your experience has been, I find it so interesting to hear experiences like yours (and Naismith’s and Elouise’s) of people who have lived through different trends in Church attitudes toward women serving missions or going to school. Thank you all for taking the time to contribute your stories.

  84. 84.

    I too find it fascinating how policy and practice have swung back and forth on this through time. (Is it obvious I’m a social scientist?) Thanks to everyone for sharing their experiences.

  85. 85.

    [...] Comments Vada: Why discourage womenZiff: Why discourage womenBandanamom: Why discourage womenZiff: Why discourage womenPaula: [...]

  86. 86.

    As to the atttitudes towards women in graduate programs: again, my experience is anecdotal and partial. But I think Naismith has underlined the key point: weighing the economic issues in the balance with family care. That, perhaps, is where the shift came–in the economy.

    Before the years Naismith mentioned (late Seventies), a prevalent attitude was: Don’t go to work just to get a fancy car, an upscale house, or other material things. Live simply and supply the stay-at-home support for husband and children. But as we all know, before long, the two-job family was no longer a matter of affording the extras; it was a matter paying for the basics. In the days after President Benson gave the famous talk about wives staying at home, those who objected most vocally to that counsel were–the husbands. (At least that was the prevalent version of things in Utah Valley.) The bottom line really became the bottom line.

    Look at the general situation today: many call the current generation GUSHERS–”Grown Up, Still Home.” As one who neither married nor had children, I speak only as an observer, but what I have observed about my faculty colleagues is that many, many of them have had to help support grown children, had to help with down payments on homes, had to finance day care or camp for grandchildren, and often had to open their homes to grown children who had divorced and needed help their raising small children. One pal of mine, while trying to save for his own retirement, felt it his duty to pay for extended therapy for a little grandson who had suffered in the tsunami of a tragic divorce.

    So there was a double pressure: the desire to follow counsel and keep Mother in the home, versus the indisputable economics of the time. As this fact of life became obvious, church members and leaders alike saw advanced education as just what Naismith said–a way for a woman to work, perhaps part-time, perhaps from the home, and bring necessary income to the family.

    I remember that many years ago, several of us on the faculty talked about the possibilties of offering courses for credit on this new gizmo, the computer. Women who had dropped out to marry and raise children could perhaps complete degrees even though they lived miles or whole states away. But at that time (maybe early Seventies), most administrators were very doubtful about encouraging wives and mothers to do anything like that: it would pull their focus away from their primary responsibilties. Now, of course,the offerings and the opportunities that BYU and most other universities offer online are breath-taking.

    One last anecdote. The brilliant daughter of a colleague was interested in, let’s say, German. She went to the BYU counseling service to ask about preparing for a career based on her interest in that language. There she was told: “Well, be sure to take lots of typing and shorthand, and perhaps you could become a secretary in the German Department!”

    Her father, hearing about this counsel, had some advice of his own for the counselor in question.
    And not too many years later, his gifted daughter became head of the Department of German in a large, prestigious Eastern university.

    This response has become too long–sorry. (We’re looking back on a lot of years here!) And we have yet to discuss a separate but related matter: the problem of wives &mothers who took part-time jobs all over the country to supplement family income.
    They were overworked, greatly underpaid, and in most instances, denied any benefits. (This was a problem of academia, not LDS church policy in any way I can think of.) The universities thought of themselves as doing a favor for these part-timers, who needed the work. It became a national scandal, and finally some justice, some fairness was secured, though hardly enough. And bear in mind that these part-timers (some of whom taught for decades in their departments and made invaluable contributions) could be let go at any time.

    Enough from me!

  87. 87.

    They were overworked, greatly underpaid, and in most instances, denied any benefits. (This was a problem of academia, not LDS church policy in any way I can think of.)

    This is also a problem in LDS church policy, at least looking at CES. At my university, we got a new Institute director. (By the way, can institute directors be women? I sincerely hope so. Has anyone had one?) He is looking for a new secretary, maybe looking to tap into some of the male graduate students’ wives. CES gives these secretaries a relatively low hourly wage ($13 in Southern California), and it is a part time position. “Part-time,” meaning 30-35 hours a week, just under the allowance for benefits!
    As you might imagine, they are having a terrible time trying to find someone to fill the position that meets all the requirements including having a current temple recommend.
    It just appalls me that the Church won’t allow these women to work full time with benefits.
    Alright, end threadjack. This discussion has been very interesting and provoking.

  88. 88.

    Thanks, Elouise, that’s fascinating. And no worries about length; far better to hear more from you who know what you’re talking about and less from those of us like me who just speculate without experience. ;)

    And I agree, Myka, that’s a frustrating situation. It’s hard as an employee to feel like your employer is trying to nickel and dime you to death. It’s particularly bad when the Church is that employer. No wonder they’ve had a hard time filling the position.

  89. 89.

    I’ve been fascinated by this discussion for the past several days. I served as a sister missionary in Russia from 2001-02 and I’ve asked myself many times why I served a mission, why my companions served missions, why any woman serves a mission, why any person serves a mission.

    First, I have to say that when I was waiting for my call, someone anonymously tacked the talk by President Hinckley to my apartment door in the middle of the night, highlighting the very sentence that has been debated several times throughout this thread. And, yes, when I woke up in the morning and found that on my door, I cried and felt betrayed and discouraged from doing what I knew I had been asked to do. But revisiting it now, I see President Hinckley’s wisdom: as always he leaves enough room for us to take his message and get our own answer to the question. With a little more maturity, I read the sentence as an affirmation that a woman who hasn’t gone on a mission is worth just as much as a woman who has.

    Second, I was not the type who thought from primary that I would serve a mission. I didn’t ever want to go: I don’t have a flamboyant personality and I knew it would be really tough for me to tract and street contact and wear a badge. But I felt very strongly that I needed to go. Strangely enough, I was encouraged to consider a mission by a bishop (not exactly my bishop, but that’s another story). It took me nearly a year before I finally got up the courage to talk to my bishop about getting my papers. While my bishop was very kind and encouraging and supportive, I remember sitting on the sidewalk outside my stake center sobbing after my interview with my BYU stake president. He made the hour long interview quite discouraging. He asked me several times if I was sure I didn’t have any marriage prospects. He made me sincerely doubt an answer I had already received for myself repeatedly.

    Third, it’s taken quite a few years, but I think I might understand a little bit where that stake president was coming from. A mission is not easy. And while a well-prepared, mature, confident, spiritually in-tune sister missionary is often the most effective missionary in the mission, an immature, unsure, and emotionally unstable sister missionary is perhaps the least effective missionary in the mission. Over the course of my mission I served with twelve different native Russian companions. While some were the most powerful and determined and amazing women I have ever met, others of them weren’t. For those less determined, their motivations fell along one or more of the following lines: 1.) to escape from parents and strict rules to a higher standard of living (in every case the church missionary fund was paying for these women to serve) 2.) to find an American man to marry 3.) to go on an extended vacation. The reality of missionary work was a difficult and sometimes impossible thing for most of my companions to grasp. How much grief I and the mission and the members and the mission president would have been spared if they had stayed home and pursued their education. Much of their lack of preparation stemmed from the fact that many of them had only been members of the church for a little over a year. It seemed like, in Russia at least, a number of sisters went on missions as soon as they had been a member a year in order to find someone to marry.

    Fourth, while a mission was essential to my life program, I don’t think it is for every woman. (And I’ll leave the discussion of whether it is essential for every man for another day.) I’m surprised that no one has brought this up yet, but now that I am a mother, I realize that motherhood is very similar to missionary work in significant ways. You are responsible for the conversion/teaching of someone you love wholly beyond yourself: your child. You completely give of yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually to another person. You give up your time and your interests to take care of someone else. All significant aspects of missionary work. And while a woman is asked to give her whole life to her family nearly indefinitely, a man is asked to give this type of sacrifice (i.e. completely turning his life over to someone else) for only two years.

    Looking back, serving a mission was the most difficult thing I have ever done, for a number of reasons. But I survived, got married, finished graduate school, had a child, and continue to look to those 18 months of unbelievable strength to help me through the rough times now. Who would I be if I hadn’t served? Not the person I am today. But would Heavenly Father have found some other way to smooth off my rough edges if I had decided not to serve? I think so. In the end, the mission question has the same answer as many questions in the church—the First Presidency has to give general counsel, but it is up to the individual to use that counsel to find a personal answer.

  90. 90.

    I was one of those young women who felt significant social pressure by well-meaning folks to go on a mission just because I was 21 and single. I did not want to go but felt guilty in not wanting to. (I have always been active in church and have a strong testimony of the truth of the gospel.) My parents supported me in going or not going.

    I clung to statements like the one above by Pres. Hinckley. I was thankful that I dated a fair amount so at least I avoided some of the you-should-go looks. I sincerely believe he is aware of the social pressure on young women and wants to make it clear that it is okay for young women to remain home if they do not have a clear feeling within themselves that it is the right thing for them to do.

    As for the difference in ages, I believe there is significant wisdom in that. My comment is long enough though, and that would create a thesis!

  91. 91.

    I believe you may have misunderstood the brethren. I have seen an ever increasing number of sisters feel is their duty and responsibility to go on a mission, thereby delaying any possibility of marriage. Let me be very clear, I support in and everyone going on a mission, especially if they feel a personal confirmation of doing so.

    But the role of women in the church is truly an astounding one. As we study more and more, reaching for the mysteries of heaven as we have been commanded to do, the role of women becomes much more clear.

    We teach the gospel every day in what we do, what we say and how we act. Do you spend a portion of every day studying the gospel? Do you have answers to gospel questions when asked? If not, that is a part of the mission of every Latter-day Saint. Know what you profess to believe.

    We are partners in creation with God. We, not the brethren, are privileged to carry within our bodies precious children, thereby becoming co-creators with God. Do you understand the awesome privilege accorded women? This is something that was not given to me. I treasure it more than most because it was denied me. Is this precious blessing so much less important than the priesthood or elders and sisters serving missions?

    We hold, in the palm of our hands, the very future of the church in the way we behave, nurture and love those placed in our care. Can you understand why the brethren would prefer we proceed with THIS very sacred lifetime mission over serving as the elders do on 2-year missions?

    Now, again. I completely support sisters going on missions. But please understand the true meaning behind the words of the brethren.

  92. 92.

    Jes, thanks for your comment. I think it’s interesting that your view of President Hinckely’s words changed over time. I guess the fact that they were used as a weapon against you at one point is what concerns me, even though you later felt that you saw the wisdom in them.

    Thanks, LeeAnn, for explaining how helpful President Hinckley’s words were to you. I’m sure your right that your type of situation was exactly what he was hoping to address.

    Candace,

    Can you understand why the brethren would prefer we proceed with THIS very sacred lifetime mission over serving as the elders do on 2-year missions?

    Why does it have to be one or the other, particularly when a mission is so brief compared to the rest of your life, and when so many women clearly want to go? Particularly if women served from 19 to 21 like men, it’s unlikely their marriage and childbearing would be delayed noticeably.

  93. 93.

    Clearly, everybody has moved on from this discussion, but on the off chance somebody stumbles upon it, I feel the record is not complete without a mention of Richard G. Scott’s talk in April 2006 conference, “Now is the time to serve a mission!” Here are some excerpts:

    In the home a young girl can understand that her primary role is to be a wife and mother. Yet as that preparation unfolds there may be an opportunity to serve a full-time mission, provided recent counsel of the First Presidency is followed: “Worthy single women ages twenty-one and older . . . may be recommended to serve full-time missions. . . . These sisters can make a valuable contribution . . . , but they should not be pressured to serve. Bishops should not recommend them for missionary service if it will interfere with imminent marriage prospects.”

    For example, from childhood through maturing years, our daughter Mary Lee heard her parents speak of our treasured missionary experiences. We had explained how challenging missionary opportunities had enriched our lives and laid the foundation for all that we treasure in life. Yet we taught that it was her decision whether she would serve or not. Through her growing years, it was clear that she intended to be a missionary. However, as missionary age approached, her exciting experiences in the university began to present attractive alternatives. Once when she mentioned wrestling with that uncertainty, she was counseled to talk to her bishop. An appointment was arranged. As she sat down before a choice bishop, she asked, “What do you think of my serving a full-time mission?” The bishop jumped from his chair, clapped his hands on the desk, and said, “That is the greatest thing I could imagine for you.” That comment tipped the scales.

    Mary Lee served a most effective mission in Spain that unveiled hidden capacities, matured her spiritual development, and caused to flower capabilities that have blessed her as a wife and mother. The bishop that had such a profound influence in my daughter’s life is J. Willard Marriott Jr., currently an Area Seventy. But we remember him most for what he did for our daughter Mary Lee. Now in her own family with the strong examples of a returned missionary father and mother, a son and a daughter have fulfilled exemplary missions.

    Can you see why I suggest that some of you young women, where there is a desire and it will not affect an impending marriage, seriously consider serving the Lord as a missionary? Our home has been greatly blessed by a wife and mother who chose to serve a full-time mission during my period of service.

    I think Elder Scott here is clearly *not* discouraging women from serving as missionaries, but is instead *encouraging* them to consider a mission as an option in the right circumstances. Consider also the five ahkam categories of Islam:

    1. Wajib (obligatory, e.g. the pilgrimage to Mecca )
    2. Mustahabb (recommended, e.g. memorization of the Qur’an)
    3. Mubah (neutral)
    4. Makruh (discouraged, e.g. gossip)
    5. Haraam (prohibited, e.g. drinking alcohol)

    As I see the lay of the land (a) missions for young men are wajib (possibly trending toward mustahabb), (b) missions for senior couples have recently progressed from mubah to mustahabb, and (c) missions for young women are solidly mubah.

    I read President Hinckley’s use of the word “essential” as synonymous with “obligatory.” At the time of his talk, it seemed that missions for young women were drifting from mubah to mustahabb in Mormon culture, and he wanted to stop that drift. But I agree with Tom (and a billion Muslims) that there is a world of difference between mubah and makruh. To claim that this is merely “hairsplitting” (a la Mark IV #72) is unjustified.

  94. 94.

    My best guess is that 11 and 12 are the prime reasons. Just in my own mission, intermissionary romances were rampant (not me, though!)

    Concerning the obligation to serve for men, I don’t think that there is an obligation. Yes, it is a priesthood responsibility to preach the gospel, but that gospel can be preached in your local area, too. Serving a two-year mission is a calling like any other calling in the church. You can accept it or reject it, without jeopardizing your eternal salvation.

    Those who feel called by the Lord to serve a mission should go. Those who do not feel such a call, should not go. (No, not every calling in this church is inspired.) So many missionaries on my mission were there for the wrong reasons: pressure, getting a car afterwards, right of passage, etc. You wanna know what kind of missionaries they made? Lousy. Those who felt called of God and were there because of their great desires to spread the good word of what Jesus had done in their lives made great missionaries.

    D&C 4 is clear that only those who have desires to serve should be called to serve. No one should be pressured to serve, men or women:

    The Lord said, “Therefore, if ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work;” (D&C 4: 3)

  95. 95.

    I was baptized into the church 4 years ago, in the process dating a great young lady in the church. We seperated while I prepared for a full-time mission, and I later served 25 months, returning to find the same young woman who’d been with me those years before active as ever and preparing to serve in Chile. Long story short, we fell in love all over again and decided to get married. However, we both came to the conclusion that she go ahead and serve. It’s a personal choice, she loves missionary work and I’d like for my eternal companion to know the things that I do. The general authorities simply don’t encourage all sisters to serve because it’s not in the makeup of things; read the scriptures and tell me how many women went to preach.

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